Hangover anxiety is definitely real and it’s why you feel so guilty in the morning

We asked an expert


You wake up. Fleetingly, you feel nothing. And then, you feel paranoid, guilty, and ashamed. You lie in bed. You shake your head to try and shake the feelings away: what you might have done or said, how you did it, and who you might have said it to.

Hangxiety (that’s hangover anxiety) is a very real phenomenon. Urban Dictionary defines it as: “The feeling of overwhelming guilt, stress, and worry you experience the day after a drinking binge. Hang-over Anxiety. Hangxiety! Example: Fuck. I may or may not have done a two man conga line through the Church of Scientology last night. I’ve got the worst hangxiety. Fuck!”

It’s more than pseudoscience, though. There have been deep studies into hangover morality and the crippling worry we get in the morning when the alcohol makes our brain more active.
We spoke to Laura Whitehurst from Anxiety UK and asked her to explain what’s really happening when we get hangover anxiety.

 

What exactly is hangover anxiety and what’s going on with our body and mind?

It’s a condition that is experienced following the consumption of alcohol, and which can leave people who normally suffer from anxiety more likely to experience panic due to the impact of alcohol on your blood sugar.

When we drink alcohol, we tend to lose our inhibitions, and the self-critical part of our brain isn’t speaking to us as much. As the alcohol leaves our system in the early morning, cortisol (the stress hormone) and our adrenal systems start to reactivate to help us remove the toxins from our bodies, and therefore leaving our adrenaline pumping harder. This can result in people feeling on edge or anxious.

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Is it worse if we blacked out?

Yes. This anxiety is  increased if you’re suffering from “alcohol-induced amnesia” – or black-outs as they’re usually called – where you struggle to remember parts of the evening. Our natural tendency as humans is to make assumptions about what we did, and try to piece together the evening. That can cause a lot of anxiety, especially if you believe you behaved irresponsibly, offensively or just stupidly when under the influence the night before.

Alcohol itself is also a depressant: it can inhibit production of the feel-good neurotransmitter called serotonin, which can cause you to feel very low, upset and anxious. Essentially, alcohol works to slow down the nervous system, which makes us less anxious, however when the alcohol is leaving the body, the nervous system springs back into life and our anxiety will return with a vengeance.

Does hangover anxiety only affect people who suffer from anxiety anyway or can they be completely separate?

People who are already predisposed to anxiety and have experienced anxiety before are more likely to experience hangover anxiety. Many describe it as expecting the worse to happen, or ‘catastrophising’ (always jumping to the worst possible confusion).

Additionally, in some people, depression and anxiety is caused by a reduced level of serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter) in the brain. Therefore if you are already living with depression and/or anxiety, by drinking alcohol, you’d be depleting that level of serotonin even further, leading to negative feelings and low mood the following day.

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Are there any cases of people getting hangxiety who had never had normal anxiety before?

My friend who has never experienced anxiety before in his life called me up in a state of massive panic and confusion over his symptoms. No matter what you are experiencing psychologically before consuming alcohol, that alcohol will have an effect on your body and mind in many ways and as such we are all just as likely to experience it.

Does it correlate to the amount of alcohol we drink? Like if we have twice as much are we likely to have it worse?

Those who drink more may experience higher levels of hangover anxiety, as it may lead to more black-out moments during the night, and more apprehension about those missing moments from the night before. It could also lead to elevated physical symptoms such as feeling more nausea, feeling shakier and dizzier – which the body may confuse with panic.

Why does it affect some people and then not others at all?

Well, it is known that alcohol affects women more  than men, and women might be more likely to be affected by it. For some, it might be down to individual alcohol tolerance levels, or down to physicality – I suppose in the same way that some (lucky) people just don’t experience hangovers in general.

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What can we do to prevent hangover anxiety?

Drink less! Ensure that you are keeping hydrated too, to prevent the physical symptoms that go along with [hangovers], like having a glass of water in between alcoholic drinks.

If you’re the type of person who becomes anxious about your behaviour when you’ve been out with friends and have drunk too much, ask them about it. Settle your mind, seek that reassurance if you know it’s going to help ease your hangover anxiety.

Is it anything to worry about?

No, especially if you do recognise that these feelings are stemming from your increased alcohol intake the night before. Anxiety itself if a very natural emotion that everybody does experience, however when it becomes so overwhelming and debilitating that it can interfere with your daily life then it is important to reach out for support, from charities like ourselves or from the GP.

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